Be Careful Where You Click

Online Pharmacy 101: What You Need to Know

The Problem

Consumers of all ages are just a click away from Illegal online drug sellers that peddle dangerous products in violation of US law.

Despite the existence of many safe online pharmacies that adhere to laws and safety standards, the Internet has opened the door to thousands of criminal Internet sites.  At any one time there are approximately 35,000-50,000 active online drug sellers, 97% of which do not comply with U.S. laws, putting patients at risk.[1]  Illegal online “pharmacy” operations are big business, the largest of which generate millions in sales each month.[2]


Implications for Your Health

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 11.04.01 AMPatients are just a click away from “medicines” sold online that may – at best – not provide the desired healing benefits, and at worst harm or even kill them. Illegal online drug sellers may appear legitimate and safe – using flashy websites with pictures of friendly looking “doctors” – but the vast majority actually endangers patients.  These drug sellers often peddle prescription drugs without a prescription, sell counterfeit or otherwise illegitimate products, and operate without the required pharmacy license.

Drugs sold online are often illegitimate medicines with contaminants, such as paint, floor wax, and boric acid.[3] Illegal online drug sellers create a major health and safety risk to consumers.


Patients Stories: Just One Click Away from Danger

  • On April 4, 2012, a mother and son in Los Angeles were looking for cold medication.  They purchased and fell victim to a counterfeit drug “vitamin injection.” The victim’s heart rate increased rapidly, experienced severe headaches, dramatic weight loss, pass-outs and numbness in lips. The victim was eventually hospitalized.[4]
  • On June 3, 2011, an emergency room doctor, from Texas, suffered a stroke from ingesting counterfeit Alli. The counterfeit Alli was produced using the controlled substance sibutramine, rather than the approved ingredient, Orlistat, and then shipped to the US for redistribution. [5]
  • On May 22, 2008, a man from Wichita, Kansas died from an accidental overdose of drugs he received from an online pharmacy. He obtained these drugs without ever visiting a doctor. [6]
  • On February 12, 2001, U.S. citizen Ryan Haight died from adverse reactions to painkillers that he purchased over the Internet. He was only required to fill out a questionnaire that was “examined” by a doctor who never met him.[7]


How to Stay Safe Online to Protect Yourself and Your Family

Check your pharmacy’s legitimacy.  Make sure your pharmacy is operating legally by using these tools:

  • National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s VIPPS list, or
  • LegitScript’s website URL verification tool (endorsed by NABP), or
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Know Your Online Pharmacy” tool

Spread the word. Watch and share videos from the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies and others:


Before you click, remember these tips to keep your family safe

  • At any one time there are approximately 35-50,000 active online drug sellers, 97% of which do not comply with U.S. laws, putting patients at risk[8]
  • Drugs sold online are often contain contaminants, such as paint, floor wax, and boric acid, or are otherwise illegitimate[9]
  • Check the online pharmacy’s legitimacy using an online tool and confirm it has a physical address, telephone number in the United States, requires a valid prescription from your doctor, and has a licensed pharmacist on staff


 Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 11.24.25 AM

The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting patient safety globally and ensuring patient access to safe and legitimate online pharmacies in accordance with applicable laws.

[1] LegitScript

[2] University of California San Diego, available at:

[3] Partnership for Safe Medicines .org

[4] “Cracking Down on Counterfeit Drugs” San Diego Union-Tribune (April 4, 2012); available at This medicine was contaminated.

[5] “June 3, 2011: Chinese National Sentenced to Federal Prison for Trafficking Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Weight Loss Drug” U.S. Department of Justice (June 3, 2011); available at This medicine was contaminated with significantly high levels of metal.  The patient suffered a stroke after ingesting the medication.

[6] “Widow: My Husband Died from Online Drugs” CNN (May 22, 2008); available at This drug was misused and abused.  The medicine was purchased online without a doctor’s visit or a prescription.

[7] “Don’t underestimate the danger of drugs from abroad,” San Diego Union-Tribune (February 25, 2011); available at medicine was misused.  The patient, without a prescription, purchased pain medications over the Internet.  He had a serious reaction and died.  The patient was only required to fill out a questionnaire that he was “examined” by a doctor who had never met him.

[8] LegitScript

[9] Partnership for Safe Medicines .org


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Welcome to the NeedyMeds Voice! We look forward to presenting you with timely, provocative pieces on healthcare reform, patient advocacy, medication and healthcare access, and other health-related news. Our goals are to educate, enlighten, and elucidate; together, we will try to make sense of the myriad and ongoing healthcare-related changes in the U.S. today.